Case Study 5: Substantiating your claims

21 Feb

Sports writing can be said to market off of hyperbole and excitement. What’s a great sports story without a sense of urgency and that the stakes are high? But at what point do sports stories toe the line from sensational to blatantly misleading?

Coming into the NFL playoffs this season, Drew Brees, quarterback for the New Orleans Saints, was close to breaking Dan Marino’s 27-year record for the most single-season passing yards. A young fan told him while he was signing autographs, “I’m here to see you break the record.” So when coach Sean Payton opted to capitalize on their 38-16 lead against the Atlanta Falcons, some saw it to be in poor taste to kick a team while they’re down. But was NFL.com and CBSSports.com’s stories about the issue full of hot air?

CBS referred to the act as “classless,” which are harsh words to paraphrase an anonymous Falcons player in the locker room who said they would “not forget it.” It is also too assumptive on the part of the writer to designate the opinion of one unnamed player as a representative of the attitude of an entire team. Just as reporters often confuse one or two testimonies for the cause of a trend story, one angry member does not speak volumes for a team. The writer’s observations about the Falcons’ reactions to Brees’ frequent pass plays seemed forced to make a point. Why wouldn’t a quarterback who is so strong in a passing game not default to that method if it’s both close to the end of the regular season and it’s an effective game plan? I’m sure anyone on the sidelines would have looked upset that their team’s defense could not prevent Brees from breaking the record, but not necessarily at how the record was broken.

Misleading headlines, such as one implying Obama dislikes Caucasian women, is one of the worst problems plaguing journalism today. Although it is not blatantly unethical, the idea behind perpetuating false notions to either drive page views with sensationalism or by not being a smart editor is irresponsible and does a great disservice to the readership. Especially in the case of sensitive issues, the onus is on the copy editor to ensure that readers are getting a legitimate idea of the content of the story.

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One Response to “Case Study 5: Substantiating your claims”

  1. Ronald R. Rodgers February 22, 2012 at 7:43 pm #

    OK, but a little off point: Were there enough sources in the original story linked to, and is that sufficient is the ultimate point of this case study.

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